MILLVILLE — These days, it’s not unusual to see Patrolman Johnathan Seidel quietly buzzing all over the Millville Police Station. He’s become something of an administrative renaissance man, handling everything from dispatch to evidence room duty.
“It doesn’t sound like much,” Thomas Haas, Millville police chief said. “It’s great to have him back though. He’s a very dedicated officer and has been doing a tremendous job.”
Being cooped up in a station may not be ideal for a career officer like Seidel, but less than three months ago, he was severely injured in the July 8 crash that killed fellow Millville Officer Christopher Reeves. Being able to do even the simplest tasks seemed like a long way off for Seidel.
In addition to a concussion, broken rib, punctured lung and a broken forearm, Seidel, along with the rest of the law enforcement community, had to cope with the loss of a brother.
“I don’t know if anyone is to the point of recovery from this tragedy,” Seidel said. “I don’t know that anyone will ever be there.”
But thanks to the support of his friends, family and fellow officers, Seidel has been making big strides on the road to recovery.
Immediately following the crash, he was flown to Cooper University Hospital, Camden, where he was met by his wife, Lindsey, as well as several friends and coworkers.
He was rushed to surgery where doctors repaired the broken bones in his arms by fixing metal plates to his radius and ulna, each held in by six screws. All along the way, he had support nearby.
“Millville made it a point to keep an officer with me around the clock,” he said. “I have to give the utmost thanks to my wife. She stayed with me while in was in the hospital.”
With her there to help him, Seidel said that it made it easier for him to focus on his recovery. It was his goal to return to life as usual as quickly as possible.
“He told me from the very beginning that I wasn’t going to take care of him,” said Lindsey, Seidel’s wife of five years.
Seidel transferred to Millville just two weeks prior to the crash. He had spent the previous five years as an officer at the Salem County Sheriff’s Office after two tours of duty in Iraq with the Army.
Reeves was mentoring Seidel as part of a field training program. Although he only knew him for a short time, Reeves already made a lasting impression on Seidel.
“Chris has been very highly spoken of,” Seidel said. “And I can assure you that he was even greater in person.
“I was only able to learn from him for a few days, but I feel like I’m a better person and a better officer because of it.”
After three days in the hospital, Seidel was released. Reeves’ funeral was scheduled to take place just two days later. Although he was in the beginning stages of recovering from his injuries, Seidel said there was no way that he would miss the opportunity to be there to show his support.
“I had already made up my mind that I was going to attend no matter what I had to do to accomplish it,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to walk with my fellow officers.”
Seidel was among the hundreds of law enforcement officers as they marched in to Lakeside Middle School to honor the memory and service of Christopher Reeves. In such a large group of officers, the feeling of brotherhood was not lost on Seidel.
“We have to deal with certain situations unique to our profession,” he said. “There is a certain comfort that comes from being in the company of other officers, which cannot be found anywhere else.
“That connection and the immense respect that I have for Chris Reeves and his family made my attendance to the funeral the only option in my mind.”
The community would again come together when Seidel started his physical therapy two weeks later.
He was still very limited in what he could do. His left thumb was weak. His ability to rotate his arm was severely limited, and while he has been making improvements, Seidel still doesn’t know if he’ll be able to regain full rotation.
Seidel is in physical therapy three times a week. All along the journey, people have gone out of their way to show their support.
Complete strangers stop him just to say hello and let him know that he’s in their prayers. Students in Millville sent him hand-made get well cards. The daughter of a fallen officer even sent him a teddy bear to give to his 2-year-old son, Isaiah.
“He sleeps with that bear every night,” Seidel said.
The support has helped carry him through the toughest parts of his recovery, but Seidel’s own determination to return to the job he loves has really never wavered.
“Coming back to work was not the easiest,” he said. “However, it is what I want to do. Like most police officers, I enjoy what I do and cannot imagine doing anything else.”
Meanwhile, the other driver in the crash, Timothy Seidel (no relation), faces charges of aggravated manslaughter and driving while intoxicated, as well as other motor vehicle violations in relation to the July crash.
“This incident has only furthered my resolve to seek out those that attempt to harm society,” Officer Seidel said.
As he rapidly approaches the day when he can return to his full duties at the Millville Police Department, life at home is beginning to look more like normal as well.
Last week, Seidel mowed his own grass for the first time in almost three months. He said that some of his former co-workers at the Salem Sheriff’s Department took turns cutting it while he recovered after the crash.
One of his biggest joys, though, is being able to pick up his son again.
“If he were any bigger I might not be able to,” Seidel said. “But, he’s still pretty light.”